Special to The CJN  

Lorraine Sandler, chair of the UJA Federation Holocaust Centre of Toronto, and Citizenship Minister Mike Colle. [Ron Csillag photo]

TORONTO – Rarely has an Ontario cabinet minister sounded as effusive about Holocaust education as when Mike Colle, the minister of citizenship and immigration, announced a $12,000 provincial grant last week to help fund a creative writing and art contest for students.

Colle announced the funding Sept. 21 at a special luncheon, co-sponsored by Canadian Jewish Congress, before about 100 survivor speakers and docents of the UJA Federation Holocaust Centre of Toronto, which runs the contest.

The contest, for Ontario students in grades 8 to 12, has existed for years. Last year, there were more than 250 entries from across the province in both writing and visual arts, all with the Holocaust, genocide or racial intolerance as their theme.

In the past, said Lorraine Sandler, chair of the Holocaust Centre, funding allowed for only one winner in each medium, with the prize being an all-expenses paid trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Sandler said the extra money will allow not only for more prize winners, but will provide better access to teachers and school boards across Ontario by enabling the centre “to spread the word of this competition so that hopefully we will have thousands of children applying for this award.”

Colle, a onetime high school history teacher, said the funding will help ensure that the Holocaust is “not only not forgotten, but is in our curriculum in everything we do – in writing, in movies, in every educational format possible.”

He told the Holocaust survivors: “We must dedicate ourselves to incorporating your stories and the reality of what happened so that nobody can dare say it didn’t happen, or revise it, or interpret it for their own means.”

The minister mentioned that this past April, his Liberal government announced $500,000 in funding to expand Baycrest’s Holocaust Resource Program to support educational and social programs for aging survivors.

At the time, Colle helped open Baycrest’s Café Europa, which provides emotional support, recreational activities and social interaction to Holocaust survivors.

Last week, he recounted his own visits to the Washington museum and to Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

He said he hopes that the latest grant “will be the beginning of a growing partnership. There is no doubt we have to do it.”

Colle said he and Premier Dalton McGuinty both feel “we have to do this or else our education system will not be complete [and] our government cannot really be complete unless we make a serious investment in Holocaust memorial activities. This is something that we feel we have to partner [with].

“We cannot just let others do it, because the threats, the ongoing peddlers of hate, are just too strong and too numerous. So it is not going to be enough for us as a society… to just do the minimum. We have to continue to find ways of encouraging, educating, fostering and honouring.”

He called the grant “another little bit of concrete action that invests in a very critical role I think we all have.”

The minister also quoted Holocaust scholar Elie Wiesel: “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”

Sandler said the extra funding will help “build a community of conscious children who begin to care, to ask questions, to research, to come up with their own pieces of information [so that they will] not believe fairy tales and dogma, but to really understand what it is in a community to care about one’s brother and one’s neighbour.”